Category Archives: Festivals & Events

Girish and heart rate variability

Heart Rate Variability: Chant From the Heart, For the Heart

Bhakti Fest is considered the ultimate playground for yogis. In particular, for bhaktas (devotional yogis). While Bhakti Fest 2018’s Joshua Tree desert playground may span 385 acres, this year I was attracted to a tiny outdoor classroom next to a small artificial pond. Sitting on the sandy ground, or perched at the rim of the pond, a variety of singers, drummers and musicians shared knowledge and tips about their practices. Of note, chanting improves heart rate variability. in other words, chant from your heart, and you’ll be chanting  FOR your heart, and general well being. 

Bhakti Fest’s Kirtan School spanned only four days, with two two-hour sessions daily. Each class had a different lead teacher for a great potpourri of kirtan key take aways. 

As Gina Salá, one of the teachers said, “So many mantras. So much wisdom.” I’d add, So many artists.  So much devotion. For the culmination of so much sangha (association/unity) of sound. 

Your Divine Voice  

Gina Sala at Bhakti Fest

Gina Sala at Bhakti Fest 2018

In a previous article of mine, Gina Salá spoke about music and devotion. A take away was that every voice is divine. Perfect.

Similiarly, in Girish’s Kirtan Class at Bhakti Fest 2018, he said, “There’s never been another voice like yours. The voice is expressing who we are. Free the voice. Free the person. Your personal growth and evolution is inseparable from your voice.”

To me, Gina and Girish have incredible voices. They hit a sweet spot in my heart. Yet, Girish considers himself a drummer. And, most drummers don’t sing. He focused on chanting during his five years as a monk living in an ashram.  “It’s not about the artistry of music. It doesn’t matter how it sounds.” He emphasized, “It’s your call to your creator.”

Most noteworthy, Girish spoke of the science behind chanting. There is clear data to attest to the benefits of singing kirtan or chanting in groups, in particular. 

Chanting for the Heart: About Heart Rate Variability  

In fact, a recent study completed by the University of Gothenburg in Sweden noted that those who sang together had synchronized heartbeats. The head researcher explained that singing is a form of controlled breathing, not unlike yogic breathwork which leads to many benefits, including lung capacity and heart health.  

Furthermore, Girish said, “When we sing in a group, our brain waves start to sync up. And heart beats too.” He talks about the phenomena called heart brain coherence, which has been investigated by the HeartMath Institute in California, and heart rate variability (HRV).  

Girish at Kirtan Class, Bhakti Fest, speaks on heart rate variability

Girish at Kirtan Class, Bhakti Fest 2018

Harvard Health Blog contributor, Marcelo Campos, MD, explains the importance of heart rate variability. “HRV is simply a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat. Over the past few decades, research has shown a relationship between low HRV and worsening depression or anxiety. A low HRV is even associated with an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease. It is fascinating to see how HRV changes as you incorporate more mindfulness, meditation, sleep, and especially physical activity into your life.”

“We want a more adaptable heart rhythm,” added Girish, “as HRV is a biomarker of human health. One fantastic way to increase our HRV levels — and thus our overall health and resiliency — is to sing. And, in fact, chanting mantras increases HRV levels better than any other types of singing.”  Again, Girish has scientific research to back this up. He explains that when you chant mantras, you follow a particular breathing pattern as referenced in the Swedish study. Clearly, the breathwork associated with Tibetan monks is far from that of acid rock. 

However, Girish pointed to research comparing traditional chants from diverse religions and cultures such as Ave Maria and Om Mani Padme Om.  “All have the same breathing patterns. It’s an amazing effect. These practices activate the parasympathetic system.”

Chanting in Any Language, From the Heart

So, you don’t have to be a bhakta yogi.  As Girish jokingly said, believe it or not, “There are people out there who have never done kirtan … or yoga … or worn Lululemon.  It’s not just the yogis. All the world’s spiritual traditions are doing some kind of mantra.  So that tells me that it works.” 

While there’s plenty of evidence-based insights as to why it works, when you look at a toddler or child singing a nursery rhyme, it’s pretty obvious. Singing, especially repetitive sounds, makes us feel good.

“The primal human instrument is the voice. You don’t have to go to a music school to find out where a middle C is,” said Girish. 

Shiva Rae at Bhakti Fest

Shiva Rae at Bhakti Fest 2018

Shiva Rae, also at Bhakti Fest 2018, told an intimate gathering of women there, “Your first mantra was in your mother’s womb (her hearbeat).” And, in many cultures, the drum represents the heart beat. 

For the Mayapuris, the drum represents the sacred, too. In their Kirtan Class, the close-knit bhaktas from Florida explained the essence of the primal beats and their beloved mridanga. 

“The drum is a manifestation of Balaram (Krishna’s brother). Sound vibration itself represents the lord. When we use our instruments in Kirtan we are dressing (up) the holy name, and the instruments are the decoration to attract us. The more that we offer our love, the more we will feel the syncopation,” they said.  

“Something that runs through every culture is rhythm. Every tradition in every era on every continent has some form of collective singing, because it just pierces so clearly. These instruments are a vehicle.”

Chant the Holy Name

Mayapuris at Bhakti Fest 2018

Mayapuris at Bhakti Fest 2018

However, the Mayapuris aren’t saying you can chant mumbo jumbo. “If you were to repeat Coca Cola or water water it’s not going to quench your thirst. When we repeat the names (of the lord) it’s ever-present. It just gets sweeter and sweeter, and more ecstatic. Kirtan is the absolute platform.”

The Mayapuris are Vaishnavas. For them, the names of Krishna and Radhe, among others, are supreme. “In our tradition, we say the name of the Lord until our voice chokes up. Spiritual life starts at the mode of goodness. With that vision, it’s easier to attain that realization. Kirtan is like a shortcut. We’re not worrying about someone’s culture, politics or religion. Kirtan, and in particular collective sangha. You get a little shortcut, like a machete cutting through. And, it’s accessible to everybody.” 

“The first thing the chanting does is dust the mirror of maya (illusion). We just get so consumed and then we’re trapped. The things that get in our way, in our material brains, get pushed aside (with chanting). For this modern age, the scriptures say Kirtan is the dharma.” 

In other words, just as Gina Salá and Girish say that everyone’s voice is divine, the Mayapuris say, “Anyone can take part and start to feel divinity.” 

Bhagavan Das and his ektar at Bhakti Fest 2018

Bhagavan Das: From High Desert to Dallas — on the 33rd parallel

No Ordinary Senior Citizen

Bhagavan Das and his ektar at Bhakti Fest 2018Bhagavan Das left the United States in 1968. At the age of 18, he headed east. To India. Tibet. Nepal. With no money. He adhered to the customs of the elder yogis. A renunciate. An ascetic, or sadhu. After seven years, he returned to the States. But not to the lifestyle of the ordinary American.  

He introduced a friend to one of his gurus, Neem Karoli Baba. That friend is now known as Ram Dass, author of “Be Here Now.” Bhagavan Das authored his own book, “It’s Here Now (Are You?)”, but is better known for his music. In each of his CDs, his chanting is almost spellbinding. Rather drone-like, his concentration on the mantras or prayers is as solid as the Tibetan monks with whom he was guided many years ago.

Today, he doesn’t look like your card carrying AARP man. No Bermuda shorts. He walks barefoot, rather than gym shoes and calf-high socks. Nor does he sport a golf shirt. Rather, he wraps a long white robe around his 6’5” lean body. Yes, he has the grey hairs and receding hairline. But, his white beard reaches almost to his belly. Trailing from the back of his head is  one grayish-brown dreadlock that extends to his upper thighs. Sometimes, he wraps the dread around his head turban-like. 

In his white robe, he looks a bit like what you’d expect an aging Moses to look like. Weathered. Coming down from the mountains. Yes, weathered but wise. 

His music is mesmerizing. Usually, he belts out verse in Sanskrit. At times, he interposes English. One hand is glued to his one-stringed ektara. His deep booming voice resonates well with the sitar, and other instruments from the Indo-Pakistani region.

Ricky Tran, a yogi from Dallas agrees. “There is definitely something different about  Bhagavan Das’ chanting. He enters a trance during his performances, and I can feel the dissolution into the Divine. I have never experienced anything like it.” 

Bhagavan Das at Bhakti Fest’s 10th Anniversary 

Bhagavan Das and his ektar at Bhakti Fest 2018Bhagavan Das’ spoken messages are sparse, but have maximum impact. 

“When the earth had been completely taken over,” he tells a crowded sanctuary room of Bhakti Fest attendees between chants, “… very little dharma was left … Everyone was lost. On the cell phone. Everyone was on e-bay. On YouTube. Lost in the glamour.”  

Next, he continues his story about the sages who formed a circle around the earth. The goddess Durga, who takes away the darkness was coming to the rescue. She was trying to slay the dragon. But alas, every time she struck to whack off the head of the dragon, another head would arise while blood was spurting all over. 

“This is the great ego,” explains Bhagavan Das.  “I. Me. Mine. The self-serving. Self-possessed. Narcissistic.” In the end, fortunately, for mankind, the great goddess, “Maha Kali licked up the blood saving the world from the great ego.”

It had been many years since Bhagavan Das graced the stage there. He was at the first Joshua Tree mega-yoga/music festival, ten years ago. While some kirtan artists live on the road, like vagabond musicians, performing at yoga studios and festivals across the country, and even overseas, that’s not Bhagavan Das’ gig any more. So Bhakti Fest 2018 attendees were in for a real treat this last September as one of the earliest American kirtaneers shared his music, and his wisdom. 

Bhagavan Das at Bhakti Fest

“We live in a dream within a dream,” he said last month in the Joshua Tree desert. “Wake up before you die. Ram (the supreme) is the fire that burns away desire, transforming it into pure love.”

In an interview more than a decade ago with “Time Out New York,” Bhagavan Das explained why people feel so great after sharing kirtan with him. 

“‘Cause when we’re all together in a room and we’re all chanting and we’re all breathing together, it’s like we become this huge deity of breath and now we have a thousand arms and legs and a thousand heads and everyone’s in the same breath.”

Bhagavan Das Heads to Dallas

Now, Texans will be in for a treat as the master Bhakta offers a weekend retreat October 19-21 at Ecstatic Dance Dallas. Ricky Tran will host, and lead yoga workshops. “This is a rare opportunity to study with Bhagavan Das, as he seldomly offers this full weekend retreat,” says Tran. 

Interestingly enough, both Joshua Tree and Dallas are on the mysterious 33rd parallel. Joshua Tree, on the 33rd North Parallel, was once sacred Indian grounds, and still carries much of the sacred feelings. And Dallas? Well, the micro-chip was invented here. But, it’s also Tran’s home, and he’s a wonderful teacher.  So, this weekend in Dallas should be very memorable.

 

Austin Free Day of Yoga

Austin FREE DAY OF YOGA Extends To Wimberley

Austin’s Free Day of Yoga: 20th Anniversary

Austin Free Day of Yoga

For the 20th year, yogis are uniting to bring Austin and neighboring communities free yoga on Labor Day, to heighten awareness of the benefits of yoga. Free Day of Yoga is an outstanding opportunity to meet different instructors, and experience different styles of of mind/body practices. I’ve been headed to Austin for many years to get a yoga recharge on Labor Day. Now, I’m inviting people to my new digs and Hill Country hood. 

This year, as part of Austin’s Free Day of Yoga, two of my fellow mind/body practitioners and I  are offering eight different sessions in Wimberley. Wimberley classes run from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday, September 3. Michael Uzuanis and Brenda Bell are fabulous instructors who will each lead two sessions at Balance Academy, as will I. Balance Academy, on Ranch Road 12, is a spacious zen-like incense-infused studio set on five acres. Additionally, I’ve offer therapeutic Gutsy Yoga, twice, at The Namaste Getaway, less than 10 minutes from Balance Academy.

Our Wimberley Free Day of Yoga selections focus on bringing balance to your body and mind. Choose from Korean Ki meditation, Yoga in Motion combining Tai Chi, Xi Gong and Yoga, Yin Yoga and a Slow Flow gentle vinyasa at Balance Academy. As such, the therapeutic sessions focusing on internal balance for better digestion, metabolism and blood sugar levels.   

Try One, or Fill Your Day

Free day of yoga in WimberleyAustin Free Day of Yoga organizer, Mary Esther Middleton, encourages people to sample.  “Because we offer such a wide variety of yoga teachers, styles and classes on Free Day of Yoga, there is a class for everyone – whether you are tall, short, round, thin, physically active or sedentary.” 

Therefore, browse Free Day of Yoga classes Check out our Wimberley area sessions (see flyer).  Or, better yet, call (512) 436-2048 or (210) 381-1846 to reserve your spot. 

Tips:

  • First, reserve your space at balance.academy to ensure your place. Or, arrive 15 minutes early.
  • Second, bring a yoga mat and/or cushions, blocks or bolsters. If you don’t have any, loaners will be available.
  • Third, while in Wimberley, cool off at The Blue Hole or Jacob’s Well (reservations required).
  • Afterwords, enjoy food and drink at The Junction, just past Balance Academy.

About Free Day of Yoga

A non-profit corporation, Free Day of Yoga Austin is dedicated to providing the gift of yoga to the community. The organization helps to educate the community about the health and wellness benefits of yoga through interactive, participatory and educational events in the Austin area.  As such, Free Day of Yoga Austin offers annual events at no charge to those attending. 

 

BhaktiFest

Bhakti Fest: 10 Years of Woodstock for Spirituality

The Birth of Bhakti Fest: Spirituality at Woodstock  

It was 1969. There were 500,000 gathered in Woodstock as Sri Swami Satchidananda gave opening remarks and prayers. “America is helping everybody in the material field, but the time has come for America to help the whole world with spirituality also.”

spirituality at Bhakti Fest 2018Swami Satchidananda’s inclusion at Woodstock was the brainchild of Sridhar Silberfein, who suggested spirituality was missing from the original Woodstock lineup. He also suggested taking this concept a bit further. Why couldn’t spirituality be the focus for a mass festival? The Swami agreed, and Sridhar recognized he had to make it happen. 

After raising four children, establishing the first natural foods store in the LA area, and making tea tree oil commonplace in the States, Sridhar set out to design a Woodstock for Yogis. He created a spirituality-based festival where the focus was chanting the names of the divine, and bringing higher consciousness to the masses. 

In 2009, Sridhar opened the gates to the Joshua Tree Retreat Center for the first Bhakti Fest. This September 12-17, two of the artists that have graced the festival each year, are once again taking center stage.   

Jai at Bhakti Fest 2018

Jai UttalJai Uttal: 10 years at Bhakti Fest had been leading weeklong Kirtan Camps for six years when Sridhar first told him about his idea for Bhakti Fest. The musician with a traditional rock background, infused with Indian and Brazilian instruments and beats said, “Yes, it’s the perfect time!”

For those unfamiliar with Bhakti (devotion) and kirtan (devotional chanting), Jai tells why it’s such a powerful practice. “These ancient chants contain a transformative power and healing energy. By singing these prayers we join a stream of consciousness and devotion that has been flowing for centuries.”

Jai, who has been singing kirtan for many decades, felt his students were longing for a bigger-scale gathering full of spirituality and sacred chants.  

“The community of ‘devotees’ has grown and expanded like ripples in a lake. The more we toss in our tiny pebbles of love, the greater are the waves of compassion and caring.”

This year, as in all the prior years, Jai will be a prime time performer on the main stage. Additionally, his yogi/dancer wife, Nubia Teixeira, will lead four different workshops including a session to empower women to heal the world. Like Jai, Nubia has been following the path of yoga and spirituality for 30 years. 

Jai always gives a great show, with his high energy, and deep devotion.  Read about one of Jai’s past special events in Austin. 

Spirituality Awakens for Donna De Lory

Donna De Lory’s blend of world music, mantras and electronica has been a favorite at Bhakti Fest, since 2009. She made her way to the first Bhakti celebration, after touring the world for 20 years as a singer and dancer with Madonna.  

Donna De Lory at Bhakti Fest for 10 yearsA Valley girl, her mom died of breast cancer when she was just 16. That event reshaped her life in many ways. She moved south to live with her dad, a Latin band leader who was into health foods and Eastern religions. She took up meditation, and worked at a vegetarian restaurant. She read a book by OSHO, and made gospel music. All in the land of country music. Nashville, Tennessee.

As a young adult, she moved back to LA, and eventually landed what many would have considered the ultimate job. Part of Madonna’s crew.  Throughout those years, the sacred vibes and sounds of devotional music never escaped her. About the time that the west coast yoga culture was taking off, she had two children, left the “Material Girl” circuit, and recorded her first yoga CD, “The Lover and The Beloved.” 

The arrival of her children, and Bhakti Fest, cemented her true desire to do her own style of world/sacred music. 

“I realized I have to do my own music. What am I about, and where’s my devotion?” Her fellow Bhakti musicians, Girish and David Newman, helped to bring her to “a place where all these loose ends came together.  We all felt we were part of a movement…like Woodstock…of people wanting to come together and expand their consciousness and go deeper within.”

Joy-Filled Participatory Fans

Donna said goodbye to the “Material Girl” and hello to “Bliss” and “Sanctuary.”  But they weren’t two completely different worlds.

“It is a community. People were so joy-filled. They never stopped smiling. I felt like I was down with the people,” she says about the Madonna days. “I learned the value of that touring with Madonna. I’d go out in front of the hotels and talk to people.” Same for Bhakti Fest.

Furthermore, the Madonna fans knew all the lyrics of her songs, and would sing along “…to the point that we couldn’t hear ourselves.” Again, same for Bhakti Fest.

Collaboration at Bhakti Fest

spirituality at Bhakti Fest 2018

From that original Bhakti Fest, collaboration abounded, Donna explains. “The artists were all one big tribe.” The musicians are almost like mix-and-match. On stage in many configurations.

“There’a a lot of integration of styles,” explains Donna. “The artists and teachers have been given space to blossom in what they offer.” For example, MC Yogi does hip hop. Sean Johnson’s style is NOLA infused. The Mayapuris perform traditional Indian ragas, samba and spirituals. 

Donna sings in English, Sanskrit, and Spanish. Often mixing one to another, just as she did with Madonna on La Isla Bonita. A professional singer and dancer, everyone who hears her can channel some of that. “No matter how much I may be in an introspective place, it just goes there. You just see it. People want to dance, and sing together. It’s in our DNA. To have this celebration, together.”

spirituality at Bhakti Fest 2018People connect with each other, and with Joshua Tree. “It’s the nature. Community. Expansiveness. Especially in today’s world. It’s a place that allows you to just be who you are, and not be judged,” explains Donna. 

Now, to amp up that collaboration and closeness between artist and attendee, Bhakti Fest 2018  includes a Mantra Dome, for a more intimate gathering to chant sacred mantras.

“Bhakti Fest was so rooted in the devotion. People feel free to let go and show their devotion. These festivals are allowing you that.”

Seva_YogaforSight

Seva Unites Yogis Worldwide for the Gift of Sight

Yoga is a very introspective practice. As such, in my personal practice, I tend to keep my eyes closed. In my group classes, when indoors, I lower the lights.  However, imagine going through life in total darkness. As a young child, I remember visiting a relative. He was completely sightless. He lived alone. Within his studio apartment, he could fend for himself. But, I always wondered how he managed beyond his front door. He had no guide dog. No close family or friends. That lasting impression is why I’m endorsing Seva Foundation’s Fifth Annual Yoga for Sight

Yoga for Sight Unites Yogis Worldwide

Seva_YogaforSightMy childhood memories of one blind man’s challenges remain. They have, in part, spurred me to do my own seva (self-less service) for the Berkeley-based Seva Foundation.  The fundraising promotion takes place in April. Around the world, yoga studios and instructors will encourage students to reflect upon the sense of sight. As such, I will be mentioning this worthy charity during my group classes. Additionally, when you book two private sessions* with me, I will donate the full amount of the second class to Seva.

“We tend to take for granted the things that are always there for us, and sight is one of those things,” said Andy Sharkey, Donor Engagement at Seva. “Through yoga we can open up to seeing people’s struggles and understanding them.”

Seva_YogaforSightYoga guides you to connect your body and your mind. It should also teach you to be more respectful and considerate of others. My yoga foundations teach that seva, or karma yoga, is just as important as our breathwork or sun salutations. I try to practice seva in many ways.

For many years, I’ve recognized Seva’s contributions. Since 1978, Seva has worked with local communities to help people live healthier more productive, happy lives. Vision is a precious gift that Seva has given to across the globe.  In fact, Seva, very cost-effectively, has provided critical eye care to 4 million in underserved communities. 

“Nowhere do I know of another group of people who have come so far in their efforts to deliver high quantity, low cost, conscious and compassionate service to their fellow beings,” said Ram Dass, Seva co-founder and honorary lifetime board member.  

Seva_YogaforSightFor example, Seva’s programs have reduced the cost of cataract surgery to just $50, making eye care available to the global poor. Additionally, Seva services include training, technology and techniques for local doctors and community outreach personnel to provide services regardless of one’s ability to pay.

This past year, alone, Seva provided vital eye care services to 1.3 million people in 21 countries. Nearly 70,000 had their eyesight restored, more than 118,000 received medical treatments, and 106,00 received eye glasses.

I invite you to participate in Yoga for Sight with me. Or donate directly. Here are more reasons why your dollar will go so far with Seva.

Seva’s Vision: a World Free of Blindness

  • 36 million people in the world are blind. That number is projected to triple by 2050. Given access to appropriate eye care, 75 percent of them could see again. 
  • Globally, 19 million children are visually impaired or blind. Lack of vision often blocks them from an adequate education and prevents them from escaping poverty. 
  • More than half of sight-impaired people are women and girls. Seva seeks to provide outreach and education, community screenings, transportation, and affordable care to women and girls.
  • Restoring sight is one of the most effective ways to relieve suffering and reduce poverty.
  • The World Bank ranked a 15-minute cataract surgery as one of the most cost-effective health interventions for low and middle income countries.
  • Most eye care treatments change lives right away. 
  • Medication for eye infections prevents decades of blindness and suffering. 
  • Moreover, high-quality eye care creates an immediate and lasting impact.
  • Seva’s long-time partner in India, the Aravind Eye Care System, exemplifies how cost recovery can be turned into financial self-sufficiency. That model is being used around the globe.

seva foundationThere are multiple ways you can contribute.

1) Register for a Yoga for Sight charitable session*, before April 15, with The Namaste Counsel.

2) Find a studio conducting special events for Seva.

3) Donate directly.

Sacred images of Krishna at Blanton Museum of Art

Stories and Images of Krishna for Janmashtami

Krishna’s Birth and Janmashtami 

Images of Krishna and RadhaJanmashtami is an important Vaishnava holiday commemorating the birth of Krishna. A two-day celebration takes place this weekend at Austin’s Radha Madhav Dham temple and gardens. In San Antonio, Krishna communities host events, Sunday. In all, images of Krishna will be venerated. That’s because, according to the ancient texts, Lord Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu. In fact, the name Krishna, means all attractive. 

Swami Sivananda, in “Bliss Divine” writes, “Vishnu incarnated with lotus eyes, with four hands armed with conch, disc, mace and lotus, with the mark of Srivatsa adorning the chest. Vasudeva (his birth mother) saw this marvel of a divine child.”

“He was the world-teacher,” says Sivananda of Krishna. “Sri Krishna was a perfect Master.  He was a Karma Yogi, Bhakta, Raja Yogi and Jnana Yogi. He preached Karma, Upasana (worship), Yoga and Jnana. The four Yogas are blended in His Gita or the Immortal Song. He was the one Lord of love. His enchanting form, with flute in hand, holds the heart of India captive in chains, even today.”

The Times of India says Lord Krishna was born 5,200 years ago and his birthplace is lit up on Janmashtami. The newspaper refers to the “Bhagavad Gita” to further describe this day.  “…whenever there will be a predominance of evil and decline of religion, Lord Vishnu will reincarnate and save the earth from all that is evil. The main purpose behind the celebration of Janmashtami along with Lord Krishna’s birthday is the prevalence of goodwill and this is what unites people from different regions together on the auspicious occasion.”

Stories Come to Life

images of krishna and garudaThese tales, and more, are depicted in illustrations from a San Diego collection.

Most are based on epics like the Ramayana or Bhagavata Purana.

One area, however, is devoted to Persian-language literature like the Shahnama. Yet another area, is musical illustrations. These are known as Ragamala. Typically, these were sets of 36 paintings, thus, creating a garland (mala) of images pertaining to the music (ragas)

The exhibit is at Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art through October 1.  Epic Tales from Ancient India features stories and images of Krishna. Traditional Indian music is piped into the gallery space. 

There are dozens and dozens of illustrations of Krishna and others from the ancient scriptures in the Blanton exhibit. Images of Krishna, Yashoda, Radha, Balaram are mostly from the 1600s. They tend to be very detailed, tiny stories on paper.

Here are a few examples.

Images of Krishna in Art

birth of KrishnaTo protect Krishna against a terrible prophesy, his birth parents entrusted him to Yashoda and Nanda. Krishna’s birth, and escape from the jail where he was born, are expressed in a watercolor circa 1560.

The exhibit description explains several of the scenes in this piece. 

“When Devaki gives birth to her eight son, Krishna, no ordinary infant, but rather an incarnation of the god Vishnu, a carefully conceived plan ensures the child’s safety.  In this image, the blue-skinned Krishna sits on a lotus throne…At the center, the prison door is left unchained. Its two guards and their dogs have fallen fast asleep, enabling Vasudeva and Krishna’s midnight escape to the distant land where Krishna will be raised.” 

Krishna overcomes BakasuraKamsa sends demons out to harm baby Krishna. One of those demons is disguised as a crane, Bakasura.  

“Bakasura attacked from behind a tree, capturing Krishna in his beak, In the story, the crane swallows Krishna but is forced to expel him when his palate begins to burn…Krishna seizes the two halves of Bakasura’s beak to rip the crane into two pieces as his brother, Balarama, and another cowherd boy wield their sticks to assist in subduing the demon.” 

In another tale, Krishna overcomes a forest fire. After defeating a serpent, Krishna and his father return home. Tired, the fall asleep at the Yamuna river.  

“At this point, a massive forest fire starts, and Krishna must rescue his people again. In the illustration, the fire that encircles the group looks like a garland of yellow flowers, within which Krishna is depicted twice…On the left, he sleeps alongside his brother Balarama and foster father Nanda…On the right, he drinks up the flames…”  

images of krishna and gopisAn opaque watercolor, from the mid 1700s shows Krishna explaining worship. There are multiple stories within the painting, representing how worship is passed on, from one to another. The eye is drawn to a colorful flower. At the yellow center of the flower, are Vishnu and Garuda. His attendants and other deities are pictured on each of the eight pink petals. 

A gallery text explains one of the pieces from around 1690.

“A telling of the story in the vernacular language of Brajbasha on the verso describes Krishna as sitting among the gopis as they together form a circle and enact the rasalila performance. Krishna multiplies himself and dances between the women. Witnessing this wonderful spectacle, gods gather while heavenly musicians and dancers join in the revelry.”

Krishna was ever popular among the gopis (cow herder girls).

“The love that the Gopis bore towards Krishna was a divine love. It was the union of souls,” says Sivananda. He adds that his flute attracted them. “It produced God-intoxication in all beings and infused life even in insentient objects. The sweetness of the music was unsurpassed.”

Epic Tales from Ancient India in Austin

Epic Tales from Ancient IndiaAs part of the Blanton show, there will be a sarod and tabla concert on September 21. Then, on September 22, there will be a lecture. Additionally, each Thursday, Saturday and Sunday will be storytelling and dance. A UT grad student, with then years of Indian classical dance experience, will perform.

The Blanton was founded in 1963 as UT’s Art Museum. Therefore, admission is free to current UT staff and students. Likewise, admission is free for teachers and active military. Typically, the museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays until 5 p.m. However, the third Thursday of every month, the museum is open until 9 p.m.

Ayurvedic practices of abhyanga and sneha

Laura Plumb On Sneha: Self-Care with Oils

I’ve always hated perfume. My mom used to buy cheap “toilet water” and douse the toilet with it. With my keen sense of smell, I retreat when someone laden with perfume is near me. On the other hand, I relish the scents of aromatherapy and natural oils (like coconut). They feel nurturing and nourishing to me. That’s why I’m a fan of the Ayurvedic practices of sneha and abhyanga.

Sneha and Abhyanga

Sneha, and abhyanga, are Ayurvedic methods of massage. At last month’s Shakti Fest , I gravitated to two of Laura Plumb‘s workshops. One was a hands-on sneha session. We anointed ourselves, or others, with oils. She passed around her home-made sneha mixtures. She shared tips for selecting essential oils, herbs and spices.

Laura explained that the word sneha means both oil, and love. Likewise, I was taught abhyanga is self-care, to nurture love of self.

The Nityananda Times explains, “Abhyanga comes from two words, ‘abhi’ and ‘anga’, meaning gentle movements over body parts. Like the experience of being loved, abhyanga can give a deep feeling of stability and warmth. Sneha is subtle; this allows the oil/love to pass through minute channels in the body and penetrate deep layers of tissue.”

sneha, abhyanga and essential oilsLaura told us, “To caress the body is a form of love. Not only is your skin going to get better, but at the deepest level, who you are you can be restored. There’s nothing wrong with you. Love is the healer.” We are all capable of self-healing, and are natural born healers. In Laura’s words, “You are the infinite…the light of the divine.” 

Sneha, and abhyanga are Ancient healing practices. The sages respected our planet’s energies essential for well being. For example, Ayurveda teaches us that faux foods and lab-made pills are not sattvic (calming/harmonious). Rather, one should look to nature for nutrition and optimizing wellness. 

Consider, Frankincense and myrrh were gifts of the Three Wise Men. Laura quoted Jesus, “Take down the best of our oils.” 

“Oil is thicker than water. Oil is everywhere. Internally and externally,” she explained. Therefore, sneha frequently. My Ayurvedic schooling urged daily oiling of hair, body and mouth. Nowadays, oil is getting its due respect. Even my dentist endorses “oil pulling.”

Personalized Sneha and Abhyanga

sneha, abhyanga and essential oilsIt should be noted that Ayurveda prescribes different oils, depending on one’s dosha.  For example, I offset my cold/dry vata tendencies with sesame oil. That’s because sesame is considering heating, whereas coconut oil is better suited for  hotter pitta types.

Additionally, one’s constitution changes throughout the day, season, and lifespan. Pre-adolescents tend to be in kapha (growth) cycles. Conversely, mature people are in their vata (air/ether) days. Hence, I learned in India that dry massage (with triphala) is an option for oilier kapha people, or seasons. But, as we age, we require more oil, internally and externally.

“After 40, it’s oleation, oleation, oleation.” Sesame oil is full of anti-oxidants and is an anti-inflammatory, Laura said. That makes it very good, even for for Alzheimer’s. The oil penetrates the skin, into the brain. Not surprisingly, another form of Indian massage is champi.  This traditional head massage gave way shampoo.

Speaking of which, I make my own. My essential oils are part of all my personal care products. No toxic ingredients. And, mine smell great, and do my body — and hair— good. Essential oils have multiple benefits. In fact, geranium, rosemary, citronella and eucalyptus, repel insects. 

Which essential oils are best for you? That depends on your constitution. 

First of all, vata types should use sesame oil as the carrier. Pitta (warm-natured) people do better with coconut or sunflower oil. Because sesame is anti-inflammatory, it’s the preferred oil for kapha.  Laura recommended any flowers and sandalwood for pitta. For vata, lavender (which I use nightly), rose or geranium (two other of my favorites). Other options: clary sage or jatamansi (which my Ayurvedic doctor prescribed for me).  Frankincense, which is considered good for everything, is suggested for the joints. Furthermore, brahmi is cooling, and beneficial to the nervous system.  

Under the Moonlight

Ayurvedic practices of abhyanga and snehaAs a student of Vedic astrology, Laura suggested mixing oils in a glass jar, on a full moon. Then, let the moon “bathe” the oils, outside. Actually, that’s how I treated my crystals recently.  

Speaking of gem stones, Laura says pearls are best during a moon period, versus rubies in a sun period. The sun is connected to the heart, or atma (soul).

Consequently, in a full moon, your true self shines. Creativity is a key word here. On the other hand, during a waning moon, one has less energy.  This is a time for going inward.  Reflection.

From another perspective, the moon is maternal. However, Venus is the sister, or princess, reflective of beauty, arts and all that inspires.

Vedic astrology, she said, is a moon-based system that shows us patterns in the universe. It takes the judgement out, but puts back responsibility, and gives us remedies. In a sense, it is the understanding of self.  “Each planet is like a deity.”  Goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati are personifications of Venus. 

Similarly, from the Yin/Yang perspective, the moon is yin. Rather, yin is cooling and feminine. The sun is yang: masculine and hot.  Read more of my articles about the Yin Yoga and Ayurveda, or check out Laura’s tips.

International Day of Yoga 2017

International Day of Yoga 2017 — Many Days, Not One

International Day of Yoga 2017 India 

International-Yoga-Day-CelebrationA few years ago, India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi made an appeal at the United Nations. As a result, 177 United Nations member states assigned June 21 as a day to recognize the benefits of yoga. International Day of Yoga 2017 will be celebrated around the world. Now, tens of thousands convene for mass meditations and sun salutations. 

For International Day of Yoga 2017, India’s Prime Minister, senior officials and yoga gurus are expected to lead more than 50,000 people in Lucknow, India.  Nearly a dozen events will take place in Delhi. One, in Red Fort, can accommodate 50,000.  In Southern India, venues even include a women’s correctional facility. 

Prime Minister Modi is a man who respects the ancient traditions, while moving forward. In a Facebook video he posted this week, he talked about the benefits of yoga on society.  “People want to live a happy life, and this can be possible only through yoga.” Yoga can make it possible for a person to have a balanced lifestyle mentally and physically, he explained. “Yoga can arouse the inner conscience of a person.”

International Day of Yoga 2017 New York

swami-sivanandaWhile cities around the world honor this day with special public yoga and meditation practices, the UN will host two days of activities. The Indian Mission to the United Nations is responsible for the impressive lineup June 20 and 21.

Among the yogis are California-based Seane Corn, Sharon Gannon of New York City’s Jivamukti Yoga and Gurmukh, who popularized Kundalini Yoga in Los Angeles.  Also on the lineup is Swami Sivadasananda, a senior teacher of Sivananda Yoga (my yoga roots). His session, expected to attract 1,500 participants, will be televised in India.

Other guests are spiritual leaders from India. President of Divine Shakti Foundation, Sadhvi Bhagawatiji, and H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, who runs an ashram, both reside in Rishikesh. 

Additionally, there will be discussion on Yoga and Health with World Health Organization officials, Bruce H. Lipton, Ph.D and others. Finally, there will be pranayama, meditation and chanting. Grammy nominated Jai Uttal will lead thousands with his eclectic world rhythms.  

Shout it Out: The Yoga of Chanting

Jai Uttal to lead kirtan at International Day of Yoga 2017

Jai humbly, said, “Finally, after well over 5,000 years, yoga has made it into the modern calendar. International Day of Yoga is a celebration of the dedication and commitment of countless seekers, from time immemorial, who have discovered and then shared the path of healing and realization that is yoga. Starting in the West as a fad, the many styles and forms of yoga (and there ARE many) have become a healing balm to our hearts and souls in these troubled times. I bow in gratitude to the United Nations for acknowledging this ancient and sacred wisdom.”

The event coincides with Jai’s tour promoting his 19th album Roots! Rock! Rama! Named for Bob Marley’s “Roots Rock Reggae,” Jai’s three Rs celebrate Rama (God), reggae and classic Indian ragas. As an extension of his new double CD, Jai released a single, “H.E.L.P.” for International Day of Yoga. 

“We hear all the translations and interpretations of the mantras. But to me,” Jai said, “they’re all saying ‘Help!’ You know? Like, ‘God, help me. I cannot take the next step without your help.’”

California-based Jai returns to New York where he was raised.  His father was influential in the music industry in the 50s and 60s. So,  Jai picked up an  appreciation for the Beatles, Marley and other rock luminaries. Then, in the 70s he studied traditional Indian music. In India, he began his bhakti (devotional) yoga practice. As such, kirtan became the center of Jai’s musical and spiritual life. 

International Day of Yoga 2017 in Texas 

downward facing dog with The Namaste Counsel

Multiple Texas events will honor this day. Following, are just a few.

  • San Antonio:

International Day of Yoga 2017 at Tripoint Event Center. A free family-friendly festival runs alongside a CME-accredited conference for health practitioners. 

  • Austin:

The Indian Consulate is hosting a celebration June 17 at the State Capitol.

  • Greater Houston:  

June 24, the Hindu Temple of Woodlands will be at Town Green Park leading bhajans (songs), meditation and hatha yoga.

  • Dallas/Fort Worth: 

The official International Day of Yoga 2017 event is June 25 at Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Plaza in Irving. Yoga mats will be provided, and breakfast served.

kapalabhati ego eradicator breath of fire

YOGA MEDICINE: Focus for International Day of Yoga

Tiffany Cruikshank is the founder of Yoga Medicine and author of two books. With a Masters in Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine, she combines the wisdom of east and west to help her clients achieve optimum health and wellness. At one of her yoga workshops in Austin, she said, “I feel strongly that yoga belongs in our medical system. My patients who were yoga students, got better, faster.”

So many others in the health care fields share this message.

Both Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Ayurveda, seek to find the root cause for imbalances which can cause dis-ease. About TCM, Kruikshank spoke about the over riding principles. “In a simple way, we treat the wholeBrahmari Yoga Medicine person…the root of what’s happening and symptoms,” which she referred to as the leaves and branches. “The body knows what to do to heal itself.” And, she added that healthy bodies have a natural flow. Call it chi or prana, it’s the energetic life force.

Another yoga therapist who combines the best of east and west is Dr. Saraswati Markus who leads Dao Flow Yoga/TCM Teacher Trainings.  An ob/gyn, and acupuncturist, she “weaves together Chinese medicine, and Yoga, along with modern medicine, into one healing cord.” She seeks to find the root cause of the problem and a lifetime solution. She says you can “use the body as a tool.  Balance (yin/yang) becomes a game changer.”  And, it’s too often missing. Especially, when you consider that 70 percent of people’s issues are stress related. 

“We are wired to see our environment as a problem,” said Dr. Markus. “The sympathetic nervous system is being toggled on.”  And, females seem to carry a bigger burden. “Women are natural multi-taskers. Most of us are very goal-oriented.”  Following what she calls the disease of perfectionism, with no balance, things get out of whack. “We have to be very careful. Doing one thing at a time conserves your vital life force.”

The Namaste Counsel Yoga MedicineExplained from a Western medical reference, Dr. Markus says that the endocrine system shuts down as a result of a hectic overburdened lifestyle. “Every time we break harmony, it leads a little bit of residue.”

For some, it’s easier to stay in harmony. For others, the slightest upset can wreak havoc on their body and cause pain. I’m very easy going. But, I have dealt with stress-related discomfort most my life. Fortunately, I turned to yoga and meditation for pain management when I was a teen. Now, nearing my 60th birthday, I take no prescription or OTC drugs. However, I reach for my different forms of yoga medicine upon rising, before bedtime, and throughout the day.

My personal experiences are what led me to be a Certified Yoga Therapist. I believe in teaching people about yoga medicine whenever possible.

One of my clients was a vet with a barrage of injuries and insurmountable pain. With the support of bolsters and cushions, he was able to relax his mind and body in key poses, and practice mindfulness and breath work. He experienced a significant reduction in discomfort, improved energy and sleep. That led to an overall improved state of being.

Learn More as Part of International Day of Yoga

Lawrence M. Cohen, MD, says that, “Pain represents an area of inflammation and ‘stuck energy.’ By doing stretches, applying sound eating practices and using diaphragmatic breathing, both the causes of pain and the perception of pain can be lowered.” Cohen is medical director of The Center for Complementary Medicine in San Antonio. He will discuss Yoga as Lifestyle Medicine at a free International Day of Yoga event at TriPoint June 17. 

Yoga therapy, Ayurveda and TCM are individual rather than one-size-fits-all prescriptions.   There is no handy Rx reference sheet for practitioners. Hence, client/practitioner relationships are important. For example, I try to do lifestyle as well as postural and musculo-skeletal analyses. Then, seek root issues, and how to address them. 

bhastrika yoga medicineDr. Sat Bir Singh Khalsa has conducted ions of clinical research. For decades he has studied the efficacy of yoga medicine for Alzheimer’s, back pain and a host of other disorders. I’ve attended workshops he’s led for yoga therapists in California. Now, he’s headed to San Antonio.  For International Day of Yoga, Dr. Khalsa will lead a CME-Seminar for physicians, students and healthcare professionals. 

As is my preference, he endorses the many limbs of yoga. “Yoga practices that include all of the traditional components including breath regulations, deep relaxation and meditation/mindfulness in addition to physical postures and exercises are behavioral strategies that have a significant psychophysiological impact on physical and mental fitness,” he explains.

Traditional Chinese Medicine, Yoga, Ayurveda and other mind/body practices focus on balance and wellness. Dr. Devraj Nayak is a cardiologist in Floresville, Texas. As an advisory board member of the upcoming Yoga as Lifestyle Medicine event, he quotes from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra Chapter 2 Verse 16.

The pain and suffering which is not yet come can and is to be avoided.

Finally, for some of my favorite forms of yoga medicine, check out my photo gallery that includes benefits and instructions. 

Bhakti Fest 2015

Boost Your Bhakti at Shakti Fest

Yoga is everywhere in the United States. You can even buy your blocks and mat at any big box store.

But the yoga that is so prevalent tends to be the physical component.  In fact, yoga is eight-limbed. Some of those branches may seem a bit obscure. Others, out of reach. However, it’s easy climbing. Especially if there’s a spotlight on them. Add in mega-stages and throngs of people loving their spirituality and you’re on your way. That’s Bhakti Fest.

Bhakti and Shakti Fest

puja ceremony at Bhakti FestThe guy who brought Swami Satchidananda to Woodstock created Bhakti Fest, and its sister, Shakti Fest. 

Shakti (divine energy) Fest is just around the corner.  Set for May 12-14, I booked my airfare last month. The next Bhakti (devotion) is in September. Both have a similar vibe to what I can only imagine was at Woodstock. But, on a much smaller scale. And, following yoga tenets: no drugs, alcohol or meat. As a result, people from all over head to Joshua Tree, California, for these festivals. I’ve made it a priority for many years.  It’s my fix. It’s powerful professional development. And, permanent personal development.

The festivals are rooted in yoga, Kirtan, and meditation. If you’re not familiar what Kirtan (or Bhakti), read more on my blog

Bhakti and Shakti Fest mesh traditional and non-traditional spiritual practices.  They are a smorgasbord for the yogi. I gorge myself on the music, chanting, and Bhakti yoga practices. Oftentimes, sleeping just a few hours under the desert stars. Unlike an all-you-can-eat buffet, you have to make hard choices. Siva Rea or Mas Vidal? Hemalayaa or Michael Brian Baker? Kia Miller, aerial yoga or the Hanuman Chalisa? There are three concurrent yoga sessions (many with live music). Additionally, there are two stages for devotional music.  Then, there are five workshop areas including a Family Village, a Men’s Lodge and a Women’s Dome. Plus, aquatic yoga, and holistic health practitioners offering massages and more. For those needing to chill, soak up healing sound baths every evening.  

Donna de Lory headlines on Friday. For many years, this spiritual vocalist toured with Madonna. Jai Uttal performs in prime time Saturday. Jai’s latest CD is both Beatles- and Brazilian-inspired. Closing out the night is Joss Jaffe about whom I’ve written in the past. Others include Sheela Bringi, Girish, Sirgun Kaur, Prajna Vieira, Johanna Beekman and Saul David Raye. 

As stated before, these festivals delve into the lesser frequented limbs of yoga. First, there are experts in Vedic astrology and Ayurveda.  Other workshops cover Sanskrit and the deities. Plus, advanced meditation and breath work techniques abound. Finally, for many of the guest speakers, instructors or musicians, the branches intertwine.

From Mantra Meditation to Kirtronica

Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda at Shakti FestFor example Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda are leading three 90-minute yoga sessions. On closing day, they perform on the main stage.  Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda are seeped into meditative Kundalini mantras. Nonetheless, they can switch gear into Kirtronica — Kirtan meets Electronica. As such, their workshops aren’t about a child’s pose or Sun Salutation. The Oregon-based yogi/musicians, with 12 CDs, inspire via waves of movement, breath work and sound.

Ananda Yogiji explains, “My own yoga practice has been heavily influenced by the teaching of Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan.  In this practice, there is a quite a fusion of asanas with mantra meditation, bhakti, breath work and more.  In fact, Yogi Bhajan taught kriyas, which oftentimes are a combination of all those things. Almost always the breath is linked with movement and also mantra.” 

“The Bhakti portion really is about your own cultivation for the love of the divine,” he says. “I include that in my practice by singing, bowing to a deity, altar, the omnipresent God without form or simply to my own soul.  I also love making offerings at my altar such as incense, flowers and fruit.  There are so many ways to include these practices not only into your yoga practice but also in your day to day life. Ultimately, Shakti and Bhakti Fest are a super recharge to my devotional practices.  And they just get better and better each year.” 

Deep Dive with Govind Das and Radha

Govind Das and RadhaGovind Das and Radha are another married couple that blend music with mantras and movement. Their music, Bhakti yoga and intensives have made a mark on me. They are the featured band on closing night. Plus, they are offering three yoga sessions infused with their live music. Additionally, Govind Das hosts a men’s workshop and the couple is holding a post-intensive, May 15. The latter includes dialogue, journaling, dharma talks, a silent meditative desert walk, teachings from the great masters, and the philosophy of Kirtan. And, always in their, plenty of music, mantras and heart-opening hatha flow. 

Govind Das says, their intensive is “grounded in a rich and mellow devotional mood of gratitude, compassion, peace, and spiritual upliftment.” Their intensive is actually a satsang, or spiritually uplifting gathering of like-minded people. They motivate participants to reboot Shakti’s vibrancy — and learnings — into their daily lives, 

It’s About Satsang

Satsang and Sangha at Bhakti FestBetty and Bill, are frequent Bhakti Fest-goers. The Canadian engineers created their own Kirtan band, Shanti Maya, fueled by satsang at Bhakti Fest, and elsewhere.

“You can’t say enough about how beneficial it is for the soul to come into the company of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people who have gathered with the same goal,“ says Betty. 

“I read once that every human culture that has ever existed on our planet had two things in common; they had music, and they sought a connection with the divine,” recalls Betty.  “Devotional music, the musical component of bhakti yoga, is that sweet place where these two most beautiful pieces of our humanity come together.”

meditation and tibetan yogaShe says Kirtan is a major draw.  But, it goes far beyond that. 

“The music itself is blissful, and all the artists have their own unique musical styles that almost always keep us entranced. We all come in common purpose, and that is to feel safe and enriched in one another’s company,” says Betty.  

”Shakti and Bhakti are a place to celebrate the Vedic traditions of India in a modern western setting,” adds Ananda.  “The mixture of chant artists, teachers, and presenters offer participants a wide flavor of teachings for their personal journeys.”